From one of our correspondents in Iraq: I finally took a tour with the local authority on the Ziggarut. The Ziggarut of Ur is a big brick pyramid, which is the oldest known structure on earth. I went there a few months ago, but without a guide, which was sort of like going to the Louvre with a hotdog and a beer, and waiting for something to happen.
Going with someone who knew the place was a completely different experience. He pointed out that this big pile of bricks was not just old, it was the center of civilization 4,000 years ago. Abraham from the Bible, as well as Lot, and Shadrack, Mishak, and Abednigo, all lived in the shadow of this Ziggarut. The oldest arch in existence is still standing here (sorry, my Greek friends). The friggin’ wheel was invented here. Cool.
This Ziggarut was the center of a city of 100,000 people from 2800 BC to 500BC. Then, poof, it was abandoned. And it disappeared into the sand. It wasn’t excavated until 1920 by a guy named Sir Somethingorother Wooley, who paid the Arabic workers the weight in gold of whatever artifact they found. Needless to say they worked hard and found a lot. This site had the greatest number of gold and silver artifacts ever found – beating out the King Tut’s tomb, which was excavated simultaneously. One-third of that find is in a museum in Pensylvania, one-third in London, and the last third â€¦ looted from the Baghdad museum after our invasion.
Q:â€œMr. Rumsfeld, are you at all concerned about the looting of the Baghdad Museum?â€
R: â€œFreedom’s untidy. Free people are free to commit crimes and do bad things. I see the same person walking out of a building with some vase 20 times. Are there that many vases in the whole country?â€
No worries. I’m sure it will all turn up on eBay eventually.
Interestingly, one of the members of the 1920 expedition was Agatha Christie. Yes, that Agatha Christie. She subsequently wrote a Hercule Poirot story about it called Murder in Mesopotamia in which the victim was none other than Mr. Wooley’s wife, whom nobody was particularly fond of in real life. Oh-no-she-DIDnnn’t?! Yup, she did. Dinner at the Wooley’s must have been a but awkward after thatâ€¦
Only a third of the site has been explored, and all of the surrounding hills still contain tombs and houses yet to be investigated. The ground was littered with clay artifacts, decorative gems, and bones. And it was all guarded by â€¦ one Arab guy armed with â€¦a loud voice. In fact, while we were there, we heard him shouting at something, and learned later that he shouted at a soldier who drove up, took a piece of pottery, flipped off the caretaker, and drove off. Who knows what piece of history is now being used as an ashtray in that jerk’s trailer. I digress.
We went into the tombs where the royalty were buried along with their riches and live families and courtiers. One of these tombs when first opened contained the bejeweled skeleton of Queen Poulabi surrounded by the skeletons of 19 of her courtiers and guards all dressed in gold and jeweled finery. Forensic archeologists reconstructed her face from the skull, and after looking at it I have the strange feeling that I know, and have even danced with, this woman. Being a reincarnated 4,800-year-old queen would explain her imperious personality and the fact that she is always surrounded by groupies. â€œYou know who you are, Dahling.â€
The grand finale was a tour of Abraham’s home (Abraham of the Biblical story of Abraham and Isaac). On the way back my guide picked up a round white thing, remarked that it was a nice shell, and handed it to me. Curious about why a shell would be that shape, I turned it over, rubbed off the mud, and found that it had been carved and shaped. We showed it to the caretaker, who was very excited because what we found turned out to be an amulet worn by one of the priestesses from the Ziggarut. He pointed out the hole in the center, which would have held a precious stone. She would have worn it while conducting services on the top of the ziggarut for the moon god Nana. Not a bad find for a bunch of amateurs. The entire site really should be under guard and should be excavated by proper archeologists. Instead, it is trodden on by soldiers and camels.
THE ZIGGARUT OF UR